Summer’s rapidly approaching, but that doesn’t mean beach reads are your only option for staying cool. Why not get your chills along with your thrills by picking up a literary horror novel? These seven titles are as well written as they are goosebump-inducing, combining the best of lit fic with spine-tingling scares.
White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi
The haunted house is one of the delights of literary horror, and the Silver family’s bed-and-breakfast in Dover, England, doesn’t disappoint. The home—so steeped in tragic history it develops its own consciousness—even narrates portions of White is for Witching. The novel follows teenaged Miranda Silver, or Miri, who struggles with pica: a compulsion to eat pieces of plastic, bits of chalk, and anything but food. Written in elegant language that’s as poetic as it is haunting, White is for Witching is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a chilling ghost tale.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
While she may be best known for her classic short story “The Lottery,” it’s in her novels that Shirley Jackson’s characters are at their most unsettling. In her final full-length work, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Constance Blackwood is suspected of poisoning her family. Constance’s surviving sister, narrator Mary Catherine, fiercely protects Constance from curious villagers, but as the outside world presses in, the Blackwoods press back, with disastrous consequences.
Let Me Tell You, by Shirley Jackson, edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt
Good news for readers who are already devotees of Shirley Jackson’s work: this August, Random House will release a volume of Jackson’s previously unpublished writings. Edited by two of her children and featuring a foreword by biographer Ruth Franklin, Let Me Tell You compiles fiction and nonfiction from across the author’s career, promising hefty doses of Jackson’s characteristic sly humor, frightening settings, and uncanny characters.
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House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
The premise of House of Leaves is as eerie as it is simple: Will Navidson and his family discover the dimensions of their home are larger on the inside than they are on the outside. Yet there’s nothing simple about Danielewski’s ambitious story, told through a piece of heavily footnoted film criticism. The critical work purports to discuss The Navidson Record, a documentary film showing the family’s descent into their ever-growing home. The terrors inside the shape-shifting house feel frighteningly immediate despite the critical remove; even the arrangement of the text on the page begins to change as the story progresses.
Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
Marisha Pessl’s cinematic novel takes a cue from House of Leaves, including news clippings, photographs, articles, and transcripts that give the reader a kaleidoscopic glimpse into the shadowy world of horror filmmaker Stanislas Cordova. The reclusive auteur—who seems equal parts Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch—makes movies so disturbing they can only be shown to his cult following at underground screenings. When Cordova’s young, piano prodigy daughter Ashley turns up dead, journalist Scott McGrath makes it his business to learn the truth about the director and his troubled family. While Oyeyemi, Danielewski, and Jackson locate their stories inside haunted houses, Pessl’s story is one of haunted people, pursued by their personal demons across imaginative, vividly rendered landscapes from urban New York to rural Chile.
Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi
Set in the remote village of Keelut, Alaska, Giraldi’s violent, unnerving tale of vengeance is written in a language as fierce and merciless as the landscape its characters inhabit. When nature writer Russell Core finds himself summoned to Keelut to help recover the remains of a child snatched by wolves, Core discovers there’s more to the child’s death than anyone in the town is willing to reveal. Hold the Dark’s horror is not a supernatural one; instead, the true terror of the story is in the very human capacity for violence.
Come Closer, by Sara Gran
More than a mere scary story, the terse, fast-paced Come Closer is equal parts psychological investigation and story of demonic possession. This short, powerful novel follows a successful young architect, Amanda, who finds herself behaving oddly. From writing obscene notes to her boss to eventually harming others in alarming and unprovoked ways, Amanda reels ever further out of control. She blames her shifting personality on Naamah, a demonic figure that haunts her in dreams, but Gran keeps the reader guessing as to whether Amanda has truly fallen prey to a malevolent spirit or simply blames her own taste for the dark side on a fictitious force.